Top Gun: Maverick team on filming the 'emotional' Iceman/Maverick reunion

Val Kilmer in uniform in Top Gun: Maverick
(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Top Gun: Maverick has wowed global audiences over Memorial Day weekend (to the tune of $151 million at the box office) with its aerial sequences and nostalgic callbacks to the original 1986 movie. However, there’s a strong chance some fans also had to fight back the tears because of one scene in particular — the reunion between Tom Cruise’s Maverick and Val Kilmer’s Iceman. And making the scene was, apparently, an emotional one for all involved.

In 1986’s Top Gun, Maverick and Iceman were rivals — TOPGUN students competing to be the best — but as with all the best "rivals to friends" storylines, by the end of the movie they had grown to respect each other and worked together to save the day. Top Gun: Maverick is set 30 years after the events of Top Gun, showing how the duo had followed different career paths. Maverick continues to fly planes and to challenge his superior officers. This means that despite his aerial accomplishments he hasn’t been able to push past the rank of captain. Iceman, meanwhile, has risen to the rank of admiral of the Pacific fleet. It’s through Iceman — sticking up for his old buddy — that Maverick is brought back to TOPGUN fighter training school, to train a new generation of fighter pilots for a dangerous mission.

About halfway through the movie, after only talking over text, Iceman invites (orders) Maverick to come talk to him in person to discuss the training and his struggles with Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw, the son of Maverick’s old co-pilot Goose. Iceman is struggling with his health from an unnamed illness, but the two have a beautiful heart-to-heart that sets Maverick on the right path.

Director Joseph Kosinski talked with What to Watch’s sister publication Total Film about the scene and what it meant for him as a long-time fan of Val Kilmer’s work and the relationship between the two characters.

"So to get a chance to work with him [Kilmer] was a dream come true, to do it with him playing Iceman and to be able to do it in a scene where he and Tom are together to people who have so much respect for each other and to have it be a reunion of not only two characters, but two men in real life. … [It was a] really emotional day, a really memorable day on set."

Kilmer and Cruise had not worked together since Top Gun in 1986 prior to Top Gun: Maverick.

Another element adding to the emotion of the scene was the fact that Kilmer had battled throat cancer in the late 2010s, which required him to get a tracheotomy that has greatly impacted his speaking voice. It's a battle he's shown on screen, in his documentary Val. But he didn’t let that stop him, as he wanted to be a part of the movie as soon as he heard that a sequel was in development.

"I called the agent immediately,” Kilmer told USA Today over email. "Top Gun has all the perfect elements for a sequel."

Recalling the shooting of the scene, Kilmer said they laughed all day and the part of the scene where he uses his real voice, after previously communicating via a computer, changed a lot. Kosinski said that hearing Iceman speak meant "those words carry more weight." Kilmer agreed that they made the right call in including that moment in the movie.

You can watch Top Gun: Maverick exclusively in movie theaters worldwide.

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Michael Balderston

Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca, Moulin Rouge!, Silence of the Lambs, Children of Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars. On the TV side he enjoys Peaky Blinders, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Saturday Night Live, Only Murders in the Building and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun. Follow on Letterboxd.